Jason Garrett celebrated his most important win as head coach of the Dallas Cowboys while being spun around on the shoulders of his once-mercurial wide receiver, Dez Bryant. Moments later, his once-disappointed owner, Jerry Jones, would call this Garrett's finest hour. His once-disconnected players would drown out the end of his locker room speech with cheers and his once-lengthy line of critics waited to see how, after five years, four defensive coordinators, two offensive coordinators and zero winning seasons, everything is starting to work the way it should in Dallas.
"From the bottom of my heart, I'm just proud to be a part of this," he said in the locker room moments after the win.
At that moment, Garrett's older brother, John, thought about standing in Palmer Stadium more than 20 years ago. All three of the Garrett brothers were playing for Princeton, and the Tigers were down by two points to Lehigh with less than two minutes to go. No timeouts, ball on their own 2-yard line.
John, now the offensive coordinator at Oregon State, always knew his brother was a salesman. Even as a second-grader playing Pop Warner just outside of Houston, Jason could convince a pack of wobbling middle-schoolers to run through a brick wall.
Against Lehigh, John remembers the way Jason walked to the huddle the same way he always did and pumped his fist. He told everyone that they were going to score -- and win. No hesitation.
"He called the play as if it was the greatest call in America," John told Around The NFL in a recent phone conversation. "He made us all believe that we could do it."
John thought about that moment because Lehigh was a better team back then. That's the simple way he can explain how his brother managed to convince his current group in Dallas to hang on despite the fact that Jason's boss let him walk into the final season of his contract without an extension, typically a death sentence for coaches in today's NFL.
During their interactions away from football this past offseason, John didn't notice any difference in his little brother. Jason wasn't nervous about the season ahead. He didn't panic about the fact that he'd almost certainly need a playoff appearance to assure himself another year in Dallas. He wasn't thinking about how almost all of his stars -- Bryant, DeMarco Murray, Bruce Carter, Dwayne Harris -- were hitting contract years and could end up getting picked apart in free agency.
They've shared a brain for decades now, and John only noticed that Jason wasn't changing anything at all.
"It's the same plan. It's the same process. It's been the process since Day 1, and it will continue to be," said John, a Cowboys assistant and coordinator from 2007 to 2012. "Just like he's able to convince all those players in all those huddles throughout his life, convincing them that he was running the best play, he's doing the same thing now."
But it wasn't just one win.
Just one win doesn't make the team owner say he's beaming "like a proud father." One win doesn't all of a sudden allow a conversation about Garrett's contract to resurface, even though Jones said he didn't want to spend his money emotionally anymore.
Just one win doesn't change the once-gloomy conversation surrounding the last five seasons in Dallas.
"Jason has had a time here very similar to this ball game," Jones said shortly after the win. "About the time he thinks he can get it going, something else will flare up. But boy, he has stayed in there and provided great leadership for his coaching staff and our players."